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Courage and closure: The cold search for Nathaniel Thorassie

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There are people who drive by that spot on Winnipeg's Red River, have done so now for over a month, without even noticing.  If you didn't know better, you'd think somebody was down there ice fishing - the holes cut in the ice, the bright red pop-up tents hiding the real truth about what's happening.

Dedicated professionals and volunteers have put everything they have into finding the body of a little six-year-old boy.  Speaking with them, they make casual conversation and adopt an air of "Yeah, this is a tough job, but we've trained for it, and this is what we do."

Then I ask them if they have kids of their own.  They do.  "My little girl is seven," says Constable Phil Trudeau   "We live right by water, and in a weak moment, when she asked me what we were doing here, I told her.  The discussion turned into a lecture about water safety," he said.

His voice cracked. He checked himself. He went back to putting on his gear.

They are tired, but they are determined.  And they are very brave.  It's thirty below on the surface - with the wind chill.  These guys are going under a metre of ice, with two metres of slush under that, in muddy water that's moving fast. There is all manner of debris that little Nathaniel Thorassie's body could be caught up on, debris that could quickly place a diver's life in danger.

I am a certified diver, but it would take much more nerve to dive in those conditions than I possess.

Their courage can only be matched by the size of their hearts, and their desire to give little Nathaniel's family some much-needed closure.

Update: On Sunday, September 25, 2011, a Winnipeg police dive team recovered a body from the Red River, nine kilometres from where Nathanial Thorassie was last seen.  Sgt. Rob Riffel, who heads the team, said they have spoken with Mclaine Flett, Nathaniel's mother, to let her know a small body was recovered, but that a positive identification has not yet been determined.  Read more on

On Sunday, January 30, 2011, the Winnipeg Police Service, the Winnipeg Fire Department and the Canadian Amphibious Search Team announced that they had ended the search for Nathaniel Thorassie's body due to treacherous ice conditions.  Read more at

Further news on the search for Nathaniel Thorassie will be published as it becomes available at
Find out more about Reg Sherren and see more of his stories from The National in the About the Show section of our website.